Dalcher, Christina

Christina Dalcher is a theoretical linguist specializing in phonetics and phonology, much like the protagonist in her adult thriller, Lucky Thirteen. When she's not writing novels, she concocts flash fiction in various genres. Her short work can be found in Saturday Night Reader, The Molotov Cocktail, andPidgeonholes. Christina lives with her husband and one very cat-like dog somewhere in the American South, and is represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. To find out more about her, visit her blog.

The Honey Clusters

Christina Dalcher

We run into the house, as we do every Christmas morning. Our eyes should be on the fat Douglas fir with its ice-lights and piles of presents, but we don’t see it. Not yet.

Parents and uncles and grandparents exchange holiday kisses, pinch our cheeks, tell us how pretty we look in our velveteen festive frocks, and try to steer us toward the big room. Anna and I ignore them. We’re on a mission.

“Tut!” says our father, but Poppy, the patriarch, smiles. He knows.

Three platters sit on the kitchen sideboard, waiting. I watch as little Anna licks her lips. The plates with their mountains of holiday treats must seem so big to her. I pull a chair from its place by the old farm table and hoist her up on it so she can see Poppy’s show.

“Go ahead,” Poppy says. He’s relishing the moment. After all, he made the candied wreaths for us, as he had done each year for his own children. The magic has gone for them, but not for us.

Anna extends a fat finger and tries to unglue one of the tiny marble-sized balls from the top of the nearest platter. “No, Annabella,” I remind her. “Always take one from the side. That way, the grown-ups won’t know.”

I hear Poppy laughing and realize my subterfuge has never really worked. He always knows when we’ve been picking at the honey clusters – the struffoli in Italian, the cicidille in his dialect.

We have to be careful. I tell Anna to take one at a time. To savor it. To make it last. She’s young – too young to be patient, too young to understand the concept of a finite pie, too young to calculate how quickly the struffoli will disappear.

Now it’s my turn. I sneak a look at Poppy and he nods. Go ahead, tesoro, I hear him say with his eyes. His pet name for me describes the three gifts on the sideboard – a treasure of honey-golden treats peppered with jewel-colored sprinkles.

I take one from the side. And I savor it.

The honey clusters won’t last long. They never do.

* * *

It seems I have been kneading, rolling, and cutting for days, but the kitchen clock tells me only an hour has passed since I started mixing the trio of ingredients: eggs, flour, vanilla.

Not too much vanilla, Poppy had said. I have to be careful with the bottle. My hands shake much more now than they did last year. I don’t want to spill too much. It would ruin things.

After the last of the cuts, I clean my knives and board. The warm water soothes my stiff fingers, and I take my time at the sink. I can rest for a moment before frying up the batch. Then I’ll rest a bit more.

I watch the pea-sized dough balls puff in the oil, as I have for each of the past seventy Christmases, ever since Poppy wrote his mother’s recipe on the notepad he kept in the old farm kitchen.

Thank goodness I’ve finished the hard part. I laugh a little to myself, because I know why the rest of my family had always left this holiday job for me.

They’re all gone now. Poppy went first, of course. Then my parents. Anna left the world this summer, and my nephews scattered themselves around the country, as young people will do.

One year, I tried giving the honey clusters to my neighbors. I knew it was a mistake when I saw them atop a rubbish bin behind the last terraced house in my complex. No Italians here.

I don’t give the treasure away anymore. I save it for myself.

When I’ve rested, I return to the kitchen and read the grease-smudged paper with Poppy’s recipe. One cup honey, one tablespoon sugar. Boil five minutes exactly. This part is tricky, but I learned long ago to use a candy thermometer. Poppy wouldn’t have approved.

The lone plate waits on the counter as I watch the numbers climb on my new thermometer. Even with reading glasses, the old one had become impossible to read. Now, I say to the pot of boiling syrup. The next step requires quick work. I don’t know that I could manage a triple recipe the way Poppy did when he had reached my age.

After a few moments, the clusters have cooled, and I spoon them into a wreath on the waiting plate. With moistened hands, I give it shape, remembering to fill in the spaces, to even it out. The circle is perfect, but naked. It needs one more thing to turn it into a treasure.

I rummage through kitchen drawers for the small jar of sprinkles. Every year is the same; I forget where I had put it the previous Christmas. That’s the trouble with sprinkles. Or maybe it’s the trouble with me.

Gotcha! The half-filled jar with its jewel-like contents winks at me from the back of the spice cabinet. It’s been waiting.

Poppy’s words echo in my head. Just a little, tesoro, just a little. I tip the jar and tap it with one finger, watching the hundreds and thousands of colors fall and bounce and stick to the honeyed pearls on the plate.

I take one from the side. And I savor it.

The honey clusters won’t last long. They never do.

The Top Ten . . . Favorite Movie Lines

Christine Dalcher

I love movies. Old, new, drama, action—when it comes to the Silver Screen, anything goes. I blame this addiction on my mother, who never missed an airing of The Million Dollar Movie back when they televised the same flick six or seven times a week. If you know me (either personally or via my writing), you'll find me speaking in movie quotes. Often. Below are a few of my favourites:

10. "Well, for one thing, it give Givency a night off." — How to Steal a Million

9. "Thousands of thousands."... "They call them millions." — Once Upon a Time in the West

8. "Never get involved in a land war in Asia."— The Princess Bride

7. "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" — Casablanca

6. "The rules of hair care are simple and finite." — Legally Blonde

5. "I am serious... and don't call me Shirley."— Airplane!

4. "Real diamonds…they must be worth their weight in gold!"— Some Like it Hot

3. "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow." — To Have and Have Not

2. “Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!” — Dr. Strangelove

1. "You're gonna need a bigger boat." — Jaws